Though you could find her art all over the Roanoke Valley, Harriet Stokes might be remembered most for her mentoring and passion for arts education.
Stokes, who died Sunday at the age of 99, co-founded Salem’s Art in the Alley which ended in 2010 after a 40-year run. The one-day annual event featured about 30 local artists’ work and easily could draw 200 people.
Besides coordinating Art in the Alley, Stokes also served on various art committees at her alma mater, Roanoke College, the Medical Foundation of the Roanoke Valley and the Art Museum of Western Virginia.
Dorsey Taylor, a longtime friend of Stokes and owner of LinDor gallery in Roanoke, called her the “grande dame of art in the valley.”
Taylor said that when he opened his gallery in the 1970s, Stokes mentored and helped Taylor get his gallery off the ground and introduced him to the art culture in Roanoke.
“The lady was fabulous,” Taylor said. “She took everyone under her wing and helped everyone climb the ladder to success.”
Stokes graduated from Salem High School in 1931, and then went on to Roanoke College in the fall, where she was a part of the first class that included women. Motivated by her desire to learn more about art, Stokes earned a Bachelor’s of Fine Art from Richmond Professional Institute, which is now known as Virginia Commonwealth University. She also continued her learning and took classes at the Chicago School for Design as well as the National Art School in Washington, D.C.
Stokes was inducted into the Salem Alumni Hall of Fame in 1997.
Stokes was known for being instrumental in starting the Virginia Watercolor Society and was a big supporter of the annual sidewalks art show. Among her other awards, she received the Walter Biggs Award for Cultural Achievement, the distinguished alumni award from Roanoke College, and most recently, the Perry F. Kendig Individual Artist award in October — a joint award given by Hollins University and Roanoke College that recognizes outstanding contributions and distinctions to art and culture in the Roanoke Valley.
Her art is on display in several homes and business across the valley, including General Electric, Carilion Health System, Roanoke College and North Cross School.
Despite the accolades, Stokes was humble and loved to give back to the art community.
“Her contribution to the area is beyond significant,” said Stokes’ niece, Pam Ogden. Stokes mentored and influenced Ogden to become an artist, and was instrumental in encouraging Ogden to go back to school after starting a family.
According to Ogden, Stokes was a “big, big supporter of arts education” in and out of the classroom and took on private clients besides her daily teaching job.
“She was someone that promoted the arts, the people in the arts, and never had an unkind word to say about anyone,” Taylor said. “She was always there to help.”
Stokes was an active member at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church where she was a former member of the vestry. She is survived by her three sons, Clay, Robert and Bill.
Her memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Salem.
Contact Cameron Austin at 981-3340 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @CameronOAustin.